4 Tips for Mastering That Perfect Latch

‘Latch’ is a word that you’ll hear a lot of as a new mother if you choose to breastfeed your newborn. I’ll be honest, I only encountered the word for the first time when I listened to a podcast featuring Robin Kaplan, an IBCLC and author of a book called ‘Latch’ (which is one of my Top Breastfeeding Resources!). But what exactly is a ‘latch’, and why is mastering the perfect latch so important for a successful and comfortable nursing experience? In this post I will cover the basics of what a good latch looks like, and will introduce 4 tips that will hopefully equip you and teach you what to look out for when your little one arrives and you embark on your breastfeeding journey together.

The importance of a good latch

The word ‘latch’ refers to the positioning of a baby’s mouth on a mothers breast when feeding. When a baby is able to latch properly, he will be able to properly remove milk from mom’s breasts without causing lasting pain or other problems. Although breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby, it doesn’t mean it is easy or even that it comes naturally to most new mums and babies. On the contrary, it often takes time and practice to get the hang of it. If you are able to, it is a good idea to seek as much help and support as you are able to in the days and weeks following the birth of your baby, and ideally have your newborn’s latch checked by a breastfeeding professional to avoid any problems down the line. Having said that, getting the latch and positioning of a newborn right can still be a bit confusing and frustrating in the early days, especially when breastfeeding professionals seem to have different methods and tips for getting it right. So something useful to keep in mind (which I read in this blogpost) is that no matter what your latch and positioning look like, the true way to know if you and your little one have managed to master the perfect latch is in the answers these two questions:

  1. Is it effective?

  2. Is it comfortable?

Your latch and positioning may look perfect, but if you are experiencing pain during an entire feed and between feeds (particularly after the first two weeks of breastfeeding) and/or ineffective milk transfer, then there is likely to be something wrong. However, if your baby is managing to transfer milk effectively and gain weight well, and mom is not experiencing lasting pain, then it is likely that the latch and positioning are good.

What makes a good latch?

When your baby is latching well, you will notice that:

  • Your baby’s chin and nose touch your breast

  • Your baby’s lips are curled outwards like fish lips, and sit flat against your breast

  • Your baby’s tongue is down, laying over his/her lower gum, and on the underside of your breast

  • Your baby’s mouth covers as much of your areola as possible (it’s ok if some of your areola is visible - we all have different sized areola and our babies will have different sized mouths - what is important is that your baby doesn’t latch onto only the nipple)

  • Your nipples aren’t uncomfortable and you aren’t in pain (although a bit of tenderness when your baby first latches on for the first few weeks is normal, this shouldn’t be extremely painful or last the whole feed)

  • You can see and hear your baby sucking and swallowing milk as he/she drinks

  • Your baby is gaining weight

  • When your baby finishes feeding, he/she seems happy and satisfied

  • After a feeding, your breasts feel softer and less full than before

And a poor latch?

If your baby is not latching well you will notice that:

  • Your baby latches only onto your nipple, and a fair bit of your areola is visible

  • You do not see or hear your baby sucking and swallowing as he/she feeds

  • Your baby’s cheeks are not full, and suck in as he/she tries to breastfeed

  • Your baby does not have her lips out like a fish, and you can see that his/her lips are tucked in and under

  • You can hear clicking or smacking sounds as your baby tries to suck

  • Your nipples are very sore for an entire feed and after nursing, and breastfeeding seems to be getting more painful

  • Your breast milk supply is low

  • Your baby seems unhappy and frustrated after a feed, and continues to show signs of hunger

  • Your newborn is losing weight, or not gaining weight at a healthy rate

4 Tips for mastering the perfect latch

1.Find a comfortable position

There are a number of different breastfeeding positions that you can try, but what’s most important is that you find one (or a few) that feel comfortable for you and your baby. Whatever position(s) you choose, make sure that:

  • Your baby’s head, neck, and spine are not twisted

  • Your baby’s chin is not on her chest, but is rather tilted upwards and presses into your breast

  • You are well supported and comfortable using pillows and cushions to support your back, arms, and/or baby

2.Hold your baby close

When you are ready to feed, line your nipple up with your baby’s nose and bring his body in close to your torso so that his tummy is facing and touching your tummy. When your baby is tucked in like this with his chin in contact with your breast, his nose will be turned up slightly which will allow him to breathe easily whilst attached to the breast as he learns how to coordinate sucking and breathing at the same time.

3.Encourage your baby to open up WIDE

Newborns are born with something called the rooting reflex, which starts when the corner of their mouth is stroked or touched. This reflex helps a baby find the breast or bottle to begin feeding. To encourage your baby to open up her mouth wide you can touch your nipple gently against her upper lip. She will turn her head and open her mouth wide, making it easier to get a good latch. Once your baby has opened up her mouth nice and wide, you can bring her to your breast, aiming your nipple towards her mouth, allowing her to take a large portion of your areola into her mouth. You can help your baby take in as much of your areola as possible by holding your breast with your thumb and index finger on the edge of your areola forming a "C" shape (in the football hold position), or a "U" shape (in the cradle or cross-cradle hold), squeezing your finger and thumb toward each other to compress your breast.

4.Look and listen as your baby feeds

Once your baby is latched on, he should begin to suck. At first, you should notice him doing short, rapid sucks to stimulate the let-down reflex. Once milk begins to flow, you will notice his sucking will become slower and much deeper, with some pauses as he swallows milk. You should see his jaw moving and hear sucking and swallowing as he feeds. If you hear clicking or smacking sounds this could indicate a poor latch or poor positioning (however there are other reasons why this may occur too, so make sure to seek help from a breastfeeding professional if this is happening along with other ‘red flag’ signs such as your baby experiencing poor weight gain or poor wee/poo output).

Last, but not least…

Reading about mastering the perfect latch is one thing, but it’s also important so see what this looks like in practice. Here are some great videos to help you learn a bit more about what a good latch looks like, with correct latching techniques and tips for breastfeeding a newborn.

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